savvylit's review

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inspiring reflective sad slow-paced

3.0

The concept behind this book is fascinating and so incredibly well-researched. Tracing first-hand accounts all the way from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Rebecca Solnit shows that altruism and solidarity are the true default state of groups of survivors. Contrary to media-enforced narratives of chaos, violence, and looting, people will more often than not do anything that they can to help one another. Not only that, but the real post-disaster danger comes from bureaucratic mishandling or, as Solnit says, elite panic. Panic and red tape have proven themselves to be the real obstacles immediately after a disaster occurs. Take September 11th, for instance. Mayor Rudy Giuliani's office of emergency management had been housed at the World Trade Center. Thus, after the towers fell, there was no one to execute a safe rescue plan. Coworkers and neighbors united with firefighters to ensure that as many people as possible got out of the rubble safely.

Again, A Paradise Built in Hell is an incredibly well-written and thoroughly researched book. However, to its detriment, it is also incredibly dry and a very slow read. Solnit could have proved her excellent thesis in many fewer words and with examples from fewer disasters. The segments on the more recent disasters were the most engaging because Solnit traveled to those communities and actually met living survivors. The first two disasters, the 1906 earthquake and the Halifax explosion are thus not nearly as interesting to read about. They read like excerpts from an old textbook. While I understand that those disasters also prove Solnit's point, I think they could have been left out in favor of a more digestible length. Ultimately, it's unfortunate because I absolutely love this book's primary message of community solidarity. I wish everyone could know that post-disaster chaos is a myth. However, how do I recommend something that felt like such a serious slog?

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brucelee1255's review

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4.0

A really well-written book that makes a very solid argument that government isn't entirely necessary or even desirable in lots of cases. It's at least worth thinking about.

hannahackermans's review

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challenging emotional hopeful informative inspiring reflective medium-paced

4.0

aashuste's review

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3.0

I picked up this book because a friend said it would renew my faith in humanity, and while there are many inspiring and heartening tales within, the tone is a bit too academic and the analysis a bit too exhaustive for my taste. The author’s critique of slow-moving centralized systems of disaster response is warranted, but I am personally concerned that getting rid of such systems would place too much responsibility on individuals. Perhaps this is a false choice. In any case, there were lots of new stories to learn, even about recent domestic disasters like 9/11 and Katrina (especially for a history-phobe like myself).

readingatthemuseum's review

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challenging dark emotional hopeful informative inspiring reflective sad tense medium-paced

4.5

jcpinckney's review

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informative reflective medium-paced

5.0

jasonmehmel's review

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4.0

A powerful idea with a book that makes it's case exhaustively to make it inarguable.

The basic premise is that fundamentally, most people will help other people in a disaster, instead of turning on each other. She takes you through major disasters through history, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, and it proves the point again and again. (And how in New Orleans, the apparent lawlessness was never as bad as it was pictured.)

Those times where things do actually go bad, it's usually because folks who are scared of losing power or privilege are responding out of fear and then creating a bad situation. (Gathering troops to protect businesses instead of helping rescue people from debris, for example. And when citizens are taking first aid supplies to help the wounded, they get shot.)

She makes the point that disasters create an opportunity for us to be better with each other, and that sometimes, that can persist past the disaster in question.

This book validated my overall optimism in human nature!

My only question, especially in some of the bigger disasters of today, such as COVID-19 and climate change... how can we capitalize on this same social good? The problem with these disasters is that there is too large a gap between the beginning of the problem and it's impact upon us, which makes it harder for us to come together against the problem the same way we would against a fire, an earthquake, or a flood...

goosegrimm's review

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challenging dark emotional hopeful reflective sad slow-paced

4.75

jose_jose's review

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informative sad fast-paced

3.0

karschmidtholloway's review

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5.0

CONTENT WARNING: R slur, N word, graphic violence, death.
An incredible testament to the true virtues of human nature. “Not a victim of the tragedy but a victor over it.”